A Toronto-based seafood market is using its benefits and compensation offerings to engage employees in an industry hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

David Owen, owner of De La Mer, recently introduced a profit-sharing plan and health benefits for employees of his four stores. While the pandemic delayed the launch of these programs by 18 months, it also highlighted the importance of employee engagement.

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“Three years ago, we did some work with a business consultant and one of the things I realized early on is the absolute necessity to get our crew invested in being interested in what’s going on in our stores. In the end, it came down to how do I, as a business owner, get my team to be invested not only in their paycheque, but the profitability of the company.”

Dental coverage was the most requested health benefit among employees, he says, noting the company has also prioritized massage and chiropractic benefits due to the physical nature of the job.

De La Mer’s profit-sharing program takes a two-pronged approach, based on both bottom-line operational profit but also top-line growth and sales. “We drive it from two directions because one of the challenges [with a profit-sharing plan] is you need to increase the bottom line, but one of the knee-jerk reactions is to cut from the top, which impacts service,” says Owen.

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Beyond net sales and profit, the program also includes metrics for customer satisfaction, he says. “It’s not just that there’s no complaints — complaints happen. It’s about making sure a complaint doesn’t escalate and we deal with it inside the store. Once the team put that math together and saw how their daily actions could impact their share of the catch, it’s been very positive.”

To participate in the profit-sharing plan, De La Mer employees are required to pass probation and obtain at least one company certification, such as customer service or processing product. And with an employee’s share percentage tied to their number of certifications, the program also helps retain talent in a challenging labour market, says Owen.

“We’re willing to share the profits and, in return, we need employees to show they’re committed. The more committed they are, the bigger the piece of the pie they’re getting.”

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